Where is God?
I believe he is with us, all around us. With us in spirit every hour of every day. He is teaching, inspiring, guiding whether we are seated in a quiet sanctuary or walking along a crowded sidewalk or watching secular movies or reading novels. His beauty, love and grace abound in our natural surroundings and he dwells in the warmth of human hearts.
Diana Butler Bass’s new book, Grounded, speaks of a spiritual revolution in which we recognize God in the nitty gritty of daily life and elevate common experience to sacred revelation. Some are uncomfortable with this idea, yet didn’t Jesus go by ‘Emmanuel: God with us?’ Are we to settle for the idea that God is only ‘with us’ in church?
Movies tell stories. Some movies tell clear stories of redemption even when they probably didn’t intend to. I watched one such movie the other night.
Burnt is a cliche-laden, R-rated, not-foodie-enough story about a talented chef. That said, Bradley Cooper is a pleasure to watch on screen. His character has serious problems. He is rude, extremely arrogant, and passionate about the kitchen. He admits past failures, like drug addiction, squandering resources, and treating his friends badly. He is trying to pull himself back up. But he owes a large debt — a really large amount to some unsavory characters who keep showing up to collect. He knows he has great talent, and is determined to regain his dignity by trying harder for culinary perfection, using and abusing many people in his pursuit of self-redemption. Fortunately for Cooper’s character, his friends want to help. As it turns out, he only realizes this circle of friends when one of them pays his debt for him.
Isn’t this the gospel story? We get ourselves into deep trouble. We hit bottom and all looks dismal. We cannot see the love of God or the love of our family and friends. And then we notice someone has paid our debt. When that debt is lifted, we experience acceptance instead of guilt. Cooper’s character could release his quest for perfection and know he could thrive within the circle of friends he was privileged to be part of.
By his death we are saved. By his wounds we are healed. Christ died to pay our debt to sin.
Another recent movie, The Intern, demonstrates how servant leadership works. The story here involves a retired man taking a volunteer internship at a young woman’s startup company. His example of humble compassion and service was noticeably different from the other employees. He never sought credit for himself, always shared his thoughts when asked for, and was never defensive about his old-school ways. He did not worry about fitting in, rather looked for ways to help those around him all the time. Somehow that reminds me of Jesus.When service to others is our motivation, we can make a real difference in their lives.
“Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.” Mark 9:35
The photo above shows my daughter helping remove dried maize from corncobs with the women of a Swaziland village. She was there in 2009 on a short mission trip. She helped in whatever way she could. She made a difference in their daily chores by simply sharing the work. The experience made a big difference in her life, too. She continues to serve young people in her community.
I guess what I’m trying to say in this post is we can find God’s truth in the movies and elsewhere in the world if we just look for it. Maybe pointing out that kind of truth in the world will draw more people to consider God than just inviting them to church. Let’s try it, shall we?